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In 1955, Olivia de Havilland was newly married to French journalist Pierre Galante, and settled in Paris. Although she had not retired from acting, De Havilland's career had taken a definite backseat to her new life as a French bonne femme. But soon after her marriage, she received an irresistible offer: the starring role in a comedy written just for her by Norman Krasna, to be filmed in Paris, and including a Christian Dior wardrobe. A dozen years earlier, Krasna had written and directed Princess O'Rourke (1943), which starred De Havilland and won Krasna an Oscar® for his screenplay. Krasna would again write and direct, as well as produce The Ambassador's Daughter (1956). And it would be a welcome return to comedy for De Havilland, who for the previous decade had been winning awards for such heavy dramatic fare as To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), and The Heiress (1949).
In The Ambassador's Daughter, De Havilland plays Joan Fisk, who acts as hostess for her father, the American Ambassador to France (Edward Arnold). The visit to Paris of an American senator and his wife (Adolphe Menjou and Myrna Loy) adds comic and romantic complications to Joan's life, including a romance with an American soldier (John Forsythe). One of those complications involves Forsythe believing that Joan is a model for Dior, hence the couture wardrobe. De Havilland, at 39, was still youthful and lovely enough to be credible as a young model. Her glow was not only due to newlywed bliss - during filming, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. In her autobiography, Myrna Loy recalled that it was an unusually cold winter in Paris, but De Havilland endured the sometimes uncomfortable working conditions without complaint, and with only occasional flashes of temperament. The actresses sat with hot water bottles under their Dior outfits while shooting in an unheated church, and had electric heating pads on their laps during makeup sessions, according to Loy.
The Ambassador's Daughter was also memorable for Loy because it marked her transition from star to character actress. She was 51 and had not made a film for three years when the offer came, but she liked the script, and was philosophical about the demotion. "You can't play smart glamour girls forever," she said. After all, she still received star billing, although her role was clearly a supporting one.
Another attraction for Loy was that the role of her husband would be played by her longtime pal, Melvyn Douglas. Both were politically active in liberal causes, and had been friends since they appeared together in Third Finger, Left Hand (1940). Their bond solidified as fellow victims of the communist witch hunt hysteria of the late 1940's. Douglas' politician wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, was demonized and defeated in a congressional race by Richard Nixon; and Loy was accused by the Hollywood Reporter of being a communist. Loy filed a million dollar lawsuit against the paper, and they eventually printed a retraction. One of the most vociferous anti-communists at the time had been Adolphe Menjou. Loy's then-husband, screenwriter Gene Markey, confronted Menjou. "Now listen, Adolphe, you stop this slander. Myrna's no communist," Markey told him. According to Loy, Menjou replied, "Well, she'll do until a real one comes along."
So Loy was understandably dismayed when Douglas had to withdraw from The Ambassador's Daughter, and was replaced by Menjou. At first, the two old adversaries needled each other about politics, with Loy enjoying the support of co-stars and fellow liberals John Forsythe and Tommy Noonan. But the more time they spent together, the more endearing Loy found Menjou. He "turned out to be a warm, affectionate man," Loy recalled.
The critics welcomed the return of De Havilland to comedy, and the return of Loy to the screen, proclaiming The Ambassador's Daughter "lightweight," but "frothy." With its excellent cast and sumptuous production values, the film offered some of the same fizzy pleasures as fine French champagne. And the charms of Paris never dimmed for De Havilland. In the early 1960's she wrote a breezy memoir of her life in France, called Every Frenchman Has One. Even after her marriage to Galante ended in 1979, she remained in Paris, where she still lives.
Producer/Director/Writer: Norman Krasna
Cinematography: Michel Kelber
Editor: Roger Dwyre
Costume Design: Christian Dior
Art Direction: Andre Bakst, Leon Barsacq
Music: Jacques Metehen
Cast: Olivia de Havilland (Joan Fisk), John Forsythe (Danny), Myrna Loy (Mrs. Cartwright), Adolphe Menjou (Senator Cartwright), Tommy Noonan (Al), Francis Lederer (Prince Nicholas Obelski), Edward Arnold (Ambassador Fisk), Minor Watson (General Harvey).
by Margarita Landazuri